On March 1, 2023 we at FDM hosted a special panel discussion on the significant gap in the tech space – from representation to pay between qualified men and women. This was a great opportunity ahead of International Women’s Day 2023, where four female panelists shared their personal stories of finding and pursuing careers in tech. The 50:50 Vision event was held at our Toronto office but could also be joined virtually.
From breaking gender barriers to driving progress and challenging the status quo, women are reshaping the tech landscape and paving the way for a more balanced and equitable future.
Our panelists were all FDM consultants currently working across various roles within IT. They spoke about their earliest inspirations to explore a future in tech and the challenges they faced in what remains a largely male-dominated industry.
What motivates someone to join a career in tech? And is having a tech degree a pre-requisite to getting a job in the industry?
Rim Almaliki, FDM Academy Head, NA opened the discussion with a personal insight on how she grew up admiring her father’s work in mechanical engineering. This prompted her to pursue a masters in electronics engineering and land her first job as a programmer in visual basics.
FDM consultant Amy Fare is currently working as a software engineer for a financial services company. Like Rim, Amy too was inspired by her father who first piqued her interest in designing video games. Amy always enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of programming. So despite completing an MSc. in Astronomy, she realized that her true passion was for computers.
Helen, our second panelist currently placed as a software developer at a multinational banking group was the first in her family to graduate from university. She completed a Bachelor’s in political science and then worked in a casino for a while but didn’t see her career progressing. Helen moved to Toronto and went back to school to get a Bachelor’s in computer science and then joined FDM.
Our third panelist Proma Datta had a background in business. Proma is currently working as a Product Analyst for a retail pharmacy chain. Despite coming from a non-technical background, Proma used apps like Jupiter SQL and soon discovered she was good at it. This led her to FDM where she completed a course in IT Service Management.
Qi Liang rounded up our panel. A KYC analyst at an international bank, Qi had a bachelors in materials engineering – her academic journey largely influenced by her parents who were both engineers.
A lot has been said about closing the gender gap in tech and why businesses should attract, engage and retain women in tech. Yet, the disparity persists in both pay and overall representation between men and women. Here’s a stat to highlight this: Only 26% of STEM graduates identify as female
The panelists discussed the present state of gender diversity in the tech sector and shared their thoughts on what more could be done to promote and support more women in tech. Several interesting and pertinent points were raised that all essentially focused on companies creating and promoting an environment of inclusivity that opens up the sector to more women.
Helen believes that ‘a policy for maternity leave that would help promote equality in other tech companies’.
On the other hand, Amy thinks ‘Tech needs a rebrand’. The sector currently has ‘an image of a middle-aged geek’ that is outdated and doesn’t portray the workplace accurately and nor does it represent inclusivity.
She stressed on the importance of having a supportive mid-level management instead of only looking at C-suite executives for steer.
However, the reality is that women have historically faced gender-based bias in the workplace regardless of the industry they’re in. Proma shared an inspiring story of how her mother broke through the glass ceiling working in finance in the 1980s. The sector and the time are both important here – as they highlight that even though things have changed, systemic biases prevail.
According to Verywellmind, ‘Impostor syndrome is the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area’.
A recent study by KPMG has found that 75% of women executives across industries have faced imposter syndrome in their careers. Gender bias and a lack of support in the workplace just increases the sense of alienation and self-doubt.
Proma believes, ‘imposter syndrome can come from not being on the path you want to be on. Revaluate where you want to be/go. If you aren’t in the right field, explore and find what you love, and make the changes to get there. It’s never too late!
Amy’s advice is to remember that the people already in a certain position or team don’t know everything or know best. Helen on the other hand emphasized that although senior level males may seem more intimidating, they are just like you. ‘Find the relatable part in them’.
Proma highlighted another significant issue – the inherent differences in the way that men and women negotiate salaries and appraisals. ‘Men can ask for a promotion whereas women are more hesitant. Men know their worth more or pretend that they do where women think twice, second guess their worth, maybe due to a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome. Women generally find it harder to negotiate salaries.’
Amy shared this viewpoint. She admitted, ‘I feel like I have to convince myself more that I deserve career advancements’.
Ultimately, Qi pointed out, ‘As long as you get the job done and right that is really the only thing people care about.’
The effect of the pandemic
The pandemic has changed conventional ways of working forever with more and more companies adopting hybrid work models. Has there been a difference between virtual and in person treatment of females in tech?
Amy feels that being in a remote setting lends itself to more quality as ‘it’s harder to identify a gender difference in a virtual setting’. However, on the flipside ‘it’s harder to find solidarity with other women in tech virtually.’ A remote setting ‘can be isolating but convenient’.
Proma believes that the pandemic showed big companies that anything is possible from the comfort of your own home. This made work less restrictive. She feels that for a lot of people, ‘being forced in a virtual environment has pushed them to speak up more. Being an introvert, it takes more effort having to charge your social battery on a daily basis.’
Qi had an interesting perspective. She said that building a team online is harder than in-person. ‘You can’t grab a coffee with a co-worker and this lack of proximity makes it hard to build rapport.’
Both Helen and Qi believe that working from home is a blessing and a curse at the same time. You can get distracted more easily. However, as there are no set boundaries between home and work, it is easier to do overtime.
The biggest takeaway from this panel discussion however was these women’s commitment to keep going and reinventing themselves.
Rim Almaliki had moved to Saudi Arabia to find that there were no jobs for a female in IT at the time. Undaunted, she decided to change her game plan, and moved into training which eventually became her passion.
In 2011 she moved to Canada. This relocation had its own unique challenges because in Canada you need Canadian experience to work in IT. She then started training at Everest college and eventually came across FDM.
Amy’s advice is to not get discouraged if your first attempt to get in the industry is unsuccessful. She says, ‘there are a lot of jobs outside of the big companies so don’t be afraid to explore others.’
Proma stressed that it’s okay to make mistakes and take your time to identify your core skills and aptitude. She also spoke of the importance of honing your skills through bootcamps and finding a mentor. She mentioned the many role models in tech that she personally had including someone who taught her coding.
Qi’s advice for anyone looking for a career in tech is, ‘Ask questions when you first start out. Don’t feel bad about your pace in learning.’
In conclusion, the rise of women in tech is transforming the industry and creating new opportunities for innovation and progress. From diversity and inclusivity to breaking gender barriers and challenging the status quo, women are playing a critical role in shaping the future of technology. The 50:50 Vision event highlighted the importance of women's participation in tech and its significance for the industry and beyond. Whether you're a tech enthusiast or an advocate for gender equality, this is a trend worth watching and supporting.